Representative Dana Rohrabacher, Republican of California, dismissed arguments made by President Bush and business leaders who say the United States needs a pool of foreign workers. He said businesses should be more creative in their efforts to find help and suggested that employers turn to the prison population to fill jobs in agriculture and elsewhere.
"Let the prisoners pick the fruits," Mr. Rohrabacher said. "We can do it without bringing in millions of foreigners."
It's a repellent remark, but it also brushes against a truth that most pols and pundits prefer to ignore. There are two large classes of employees in the U.S. that are not "free labor" by any stretch of the imagination. One is foreign workers -- either illegal immigrants, who have little legal recourse when employers coerce or cheat them, or guest workers, whose ability to leave one job for another is severely constrained. The other group is prisoners.
If all you want is a captive pool of low-wage proles, I suppose it might make sense to replace the first group with the second. But if your interest is liberty -- freedom of movement, freedom of contract -- it's a pretty disgusting thought. For all the restrictions of the guest worker program, at least its members signed up voluntarily. And none of them got their jobs by killing someone.